Automatic Everything

In an effort to simplify my finances, I’ve automated every bill I have.  For years, I resisted, fearing a lack of control over my money.   A few months ago, I re-examined the bill paying options on my bank’s website and changed my mind.  This is one thing that USBank has done right.

The first thing I did was set a budget. Without a budget, it’s not possible to let your money take care of itself.   I did this months before I decided to automate.

All of the bills that offer a budget plan–a plan that averages your payments to avoid fluctuation–went on the plan.    It means I do overpay some months, but it also means I get to underpay some months.  Most important, I always know what will be due.   These bills were scheduled in the bank’s online bill paying system as is, along with the rest of the bills that do not fluctuate.

All of the bills that do fluctuate went in to the bill paying system at their highest level.  For example, I don’t pay for text messaging on my cell phone.  Some months, I send and receive text messages.  I pay my cell phone bill assuming that there will be a few messages.  This is slowly building a credit on my account.  If I don’t use all of the credit, I will get to skip a month of payments sometime next year.

I keep track of all of this using Quicken.  Every one of these bill is in the calendar.  They are all scheduled to be entered into the register on the first of the month, to post of the actual day of payment.   This lets me see, at a glance,  my cash flow for the entire month.

But wait!  What about the non-monthly payments, you ask? They are also in Quicken, broken into monthly line items.   There’s a “Set aside for property taxes” item, a “Set aside for web host” item, and a few other items.

My time to maintain this has been reduced to comparing the bills to the bill-paying system every other week.  At the same time, I consolidate all of the “set asides” so I don’t have 10 property tax entries when one will do.

I know this is an inefficient method of saving money, but my goal isn’t to save money, it’s automating money and removing one layer of stress from my life.  It has transformed bill-paying from an hour or two per week to 20 minutes, twice per month and very little stress.

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My Financial Plan – How I Improve on Ramsey

In April, my wife and I decided that debt was done. We have hopefully closed that chapter in our lives. I borrowed, then purchased, The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. <a href=budget” width=”300″ height=”213″ />We are almost following his baby steps. Our credit has always been spectacular, but we used it a lot. Our financial plan is Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover, with some adjustments.

Step 1. Budget:

The budget was painful, and for the first couple of months, impossible.  We had no idea what bills were coming due. There were quarterly payments for the garbage bill and annual payments for the auto club.  It was all a surprise.  Surprises are setbacks in a budget.

When something came up, we’d start budgeting for it, but stuff kept coming up. We’re not on top of all of it, yet, but we are so much closer. We’ve got a virtual envelope system for groceries, auto maintenance, baby needs(we have two in diapers) and some discretionary money. We set aside money for everything that isn’t a monthly expense, and have a line item for everything that is. My wife is eligible for overtime and monthly bonuses. That money does not get budgeted. It’s all extra and goes straight on to debt, or to play catch-up with the bills we had previously missed.  I figure it will take a full year to get all of the non-monthly expenses in the budget and caught up.

Step 2. The initial emergency fund:

Ramsey recommends $1000, adjusted for your situation. I decided $1000 wasn’t enough. That isn’t even a month’s worth of expenses. We settled on $1800, plus $25/month. It’s still not enough, but it’s better. Hopefully, we’ll be able to ignore it long enough that the $25/month accrues to something worthwhile.

Step 3. The Debt Snowball:

This is the controversial bad math. Pay off the lowest balance accounts first, then take those payments and apply them to the higher balance accounts. Emotionally, it’s been wonderful. We paid off the first credit card in a couple of weeks, followed 6 weeks later by my student loan. Since April, we’ve dropped nearly $10,000 and we haven’t made huge cuts to our standard of living.    At least monthly, we re-examine our expenses to see what else can be cut.

Step 4. Three to six months of expenses in savings:

We aren’t on this step yet. In step 2, we are consistently depositing more, making us more secure every month.

Step 5. Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement:

I have not stopped my auto-deposited contribution. It’s stupid to pass up an employer match. My wife’s company does not match, so she is currently not contributing.

Step 6. College funding for children:

We have started a $10 College fund.

Step 7. Pay off home early:

I don’t see the point in handling this one separately. Our mortgage is  debt, and when the other debts are paid, we will be less than a year from owning our house, free and clear. This is rolled in with step three. All debt is going away, immediately.

Step 8. Build wealth and give!

We have cut off most of our charitable giving. Every other year, it has been a significant percent of our income, and in a few more years, will be so again. The only exception to this is children knocking on the door for fundraisers. I have no problems with saying no to a parent fundraising for their kid, but when the kids is doing the work, door-to-door, especially in the winter, I buy something. My son’s school, on the other hand, gets fundraisers ignored. When they come home, I send a check to the school, ignoring the program. I bypass the overhead and make a direct donation.

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Net Worth and other stuff

Net worth

This was not a good year for our net worth.

Over the summer, we remodeled both of our bathrooms.  At the same time.

1 out of 10: Don’t recommend.

We love the bathrooms, but–as with any project–it went over budget.   Sucks to be us.

Then, towards the end of the year, we decided to push hard and pay off our mortgage in 2015.   Part of doing that meant paying the credit card off slower than we’d like.   It wasn’t the best long-term decision, but we’re mortgage-free now.

Those decision, coupled with a small slump in our investment accounts means we are worth $7650 going into 2016 than we were at the start of 2015.

Disappointing.

I’m also disappointed that our credit card discipline slipped last year.

New plan:  No debt before tax day.   Every cent of Linda’s paycheck, every cent of my monthly bonus checks, and every cent of any extra money we make is going into the remaining credit card debt.   My math says that last debt will die on April 1st.

Then we get to talk about what to do with out money when there’s no debt.   But never fear, I have a plan.   A boring, boring plan.

  • We’re going to save for college at a rate we should have started 10 years ago.
  • We’re going to max out both of our retirement plans.
  • We’re going to take some nicer family vacations.
  • We’re going to buy a pony.

So not that boring.

And when our kids all decide to become certified sign-spinners, we’ll have a huge nest-egg in the college fund savings account to spend on lottery tickets.

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My Financial Life

My financial life right now is boooring.

And that’s a good thing.

When I started this site I was $90,000 in debt, and considering bankruptcy.  I’d just started on the Dave Ramsey plan and was looking for every possible way to scrape up any extra money  I could.

Now, the debt is nearly gone.

US interest payments on debt by sector as a fr...

US interest payments on debt by sector as a fraction of GDP 1960-2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • I’m looking at the last $8000 on my mortgage.  I have enough in savings to pay it off today, without draining my savings completely dry.
  • My IRA gets maxed out every year, and this year, my wife’s will be, too.
  • We save or invest about 30% of our income.
  • My credit score according to CreditKarma.com is 826.

Our credit card is almost paid off every month.  There’s occasionally some overlap between our auto-payment and our charges.  And sometimes the budgeted auto-payment doesn’t match the reality of our spending and I don’t notice for a week or two.  Except for the end of last year, but that’s a post for another day.

The short version is: We’re doing well, and we’re nearing the end of our financial problems.

Our scheduled mortgage over-payments will have it completely paid off in October.  Then we are debt-free and can hopefully manage to live the rest of our lives without paying interest on money that isn’t earning us more than we are paying.   For example, I’m willing to take out a mortgage to buy another rental property, but I’m going to wait to do that until our current mortgage is paid and we have a substantial down payment ready.

No debt.

I’m not kidding when I say it’s been a long 6 years of fighting our debt.  Counting a car loan we got and paid early, we’ve paid more than $110,000 of debt in six years.

I’ve run side businesses, aggressively negotiated raises, and left companies(voluntarily and otherwise) for better pay & benefits.

I’ve watched friends and family take vacations around the world.

I’ve turned my kids down for so many things that I would love to buy them, but couldn’t because being financially secure is a much higher priority than spoiling children.  Try explaining that to a 6 year old.

And now, the debt-ridden part of our financial journey is almost over.   Finally.

So what’s next?

I have no idea.  I’d like to travel more.  Linda and the girls want us to move to a hobby farm and get horses.  We want more rental properties.

Whatever “next” is, it will be done from a position of strength that won’t destroy our financial world or put out futures at risk.

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